[20 November 2012]
In music as in life, it’s all about who you know. And Glasgow artist Tom Scholefield knows a lot of them. Having works as a designer, animator, and director for records on tier one electronic labels like Warp, Brainfeeder, DFA, Numbers, R&S, Not Fun, and Planet Mu, it was only a matter of time before his own musical exploits landed him at one of these white hot venues (Planet Mu, in this instance). Yet unlike the vivid and vibrant sounds he has given life to in his covers for works by Rustie, Hudson Mohawke, Oneohtrix Point Never, and the like, his latest album Regional Surrealism is a reserved and unassuming affair. It’s an album where the lack of focus is the album’s strength masquerading as its weakness. Scholefield exhibits a broad range and diversity of sounds here, none too flamboyant or provocative and just as well nary a dance beat to be found. Regional Surrealism is a moody beast, but not temperamental to the point of leaping to attention. The songs here seem to belong to some larger context with all the fleshy meat ripped off, leaving the existing framework held together with only the most barebones sutures.
Konx-Om-Pax derives his name from a classical piece by Giancinto Scelsi, which perhaps unknown to Scholefield at the time was also the name of a 1907 essay compendium by famed occultist Aleister Crowley. Perhaps some of this mysticism seeped into Scholefield’s work by osmosis because there’s a strange alchemy at play in the juxtaposition of the lush and the tempestuous, the white and black magick. Some of these dichotomies are followed to oddball extremes like the twiddling chirps that galavant around the thudding gongs of “Twin Portal Redux” or the whole of “Lagoon Leisure”, apparently a Tudor-esque experimental track lumped on a Detroit techno one.
If there is a larger practice to lump Regional Surrealism into, it’s a crucial space occupying the gap between the goop of the circuit-bent skewed future hues of ‘90s Aphex Twin or Boards of Canada and the restless experimentation of the sometimes backwards-glancing post-noise Hype Williams brand of chillwave, which can get plenty pretty on tracks like “Isotonic Pool” and “Silent Reading”. Yet the outliers oddly seem the norm. “Pillars of Creation” is like analogue electronic stabs of light refracting through an ice age cave of stalactites and stalagmites. It does this for exactly three minutes in a relatively circular fashion and retreats, never building or bursting in the process. Elsewhere, “Sura-Tura-Gnosi-Cosi” enlists Steven Retchard, an artist Scholefield found on Myspace, to do an eerie distorted voice spoken word piece, the kind which was a prerequisite for every industrial record in the late 80s, but here seems like the most elegant and mathematically precise piece of the album. It’s a testament to Planet Mu that in the wake of their wild success capitalizing on footwerk, purple, hipster house, and whatever Rudi Zygaldo is that they will take a chance on an album that seems to invite its microcosm of an audience to listen to an album whose pleasures are not smeared all over the surface.